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"There's a holdup in the Bronx. Brooklyn's broken out in fights. There's
traffic jam in Harlem that's backed up to Jackson Heights. There's a
troop short a child. Kruschev's due at Idlewild. Car 54, Where Are
In the mixed Jewish and Italian 53rd precinct of the Bronx, two mismatched police officers, Gunther Toody and his partner, Francis Muldoon, patrol their section in Car 54. Gunther, a married man, is short, heavyset, and, a dummy. Francis, a bachelor living with his mother, is tall, skinny, and cultured. Practicing an early form of community policing, these two kind-hearted, childish men are beloved in the neighborhood. But their efforts to circumvent stern law usually backfire and embarrass their precinct commander, Captain Block.
This program, a gem of Jewish humor, packed a half-hour of riotous laughter into every show. Each character in it was well-formed and extreme. The guest stars were just as hilarious. Although "I Love Lucy" is remembered as the premier TV comedy series of the 1950's, "Car 54, Where Are You?" extracted more humor out of normal situations. One cannot watch it without getting a belly-ache. It was the funniest show on television.
This is the only police show I remember from those earlier days that shows members of a professional police force in such a light hearted way. As a retired cop myself, I know it was obviously not to be taken seriously of course. In my opinion, a lot of things on that show, though not all, could happen in real life. This is especially true when the cops are off duty and get into situations which include their personal life. Even a lot of the on duty antics are not out of touch with reality, such as when the guys are alone in the locker room. It truly shows law enforcement in a relaxing, humorous way. Cops really are human!
Boy, I am still waiting for a DVD or two of this classic television
show, giving us seasons worth of episodes, not just a couple of
episodes on tape. This show was a comedy classic; one of the best ever.
This particular VHS tape I am reviewing features two past shows, one of which is one of my all-time favorites: "The Taming of Lucille." Humor is subject but to me that episode is one of the funniest ever on TV as henpecked "Gunther Toody" (Joe E. Ross) tries to turn the tables on his wife. After he and partner Francis Muldoon (Fred Gwynne) watch a presentation of "The Taming the Shrew" in Central Park, and later Toody sees his cousin Al dominate his wife Rose, he thinks he can do the same....with hilarious results. Beatrice Pons, as "Lucile," is a hoot, too. Ross and Pons played the same roles in the earlier "You'll Never Get Rich" television how featuring Phil Silvers as "Sgt. Bilko."
The other episode is a famous one, too, although not as funny. In this show, Toody winds up on the Jack Paar show, hosted by Hugh Downs. A fellow policeman is "discovered" as a real comic and is invited on the show, only to get stage-fright and be rescued by Toody, who then takes his place as the star comic. He's invited back and....well....deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra supposedly once said.
These are two shows guaranteed to give you a lot of laughs for 50 minutes (25 minutes per show). I just hope someone the whole series becomes available.
Car 54 Where are You? is one of the funniest TV series to ever appear
on television. The chemistry between the dim-witted but affable Gunther
Toody (played by Borscht-belt stand-up comic Joe E. Ross ) and his
cultured but painfully shy bachelor partner Francis Muldoon ( played by
the pre-Munsters Fred Gwynne ) rings true in every episode. You
definitely get the feeling watching this comedy that these two cops are
closer than brothers. What really makes this series outstanding though
is the superior writing and the supporting actors. Wally Cox, Nipsey
Russell, Godfrey Cambridge, Charlotte Rae, Ossie Davis, Jake LaMotta (
the subject of Scorcese's 'Raging Bull' ), Rocky Graziano, Sugar Ray
Robinson, Jack Gilford..these are just a handful of some of the
well-known actors and personalities you'll see when watching this
I recently found the entire series for sale on the internet and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.
I grew up in the Bronx when this was a prime time series in New York. In fact, I lived a block away from the old Biograph studio where the series was filmed; some of the location scenes were filmed in the Tremont section of the Bronx (the 53rd precenct). Watching the old episodes, you will see such actors as Maureen Stapleton, Nipsey Russell, Charlotte Rae, Mel Stewart, and Ossie Davis who were based in the New York area at the time. New York was the television broadcast capital at the time until the mid '60s before productions left for Hollywood. (Other studios like Filmways in Harlem produced shows like "Naked City"). The closing credits of the "53rd precinct" is actually the exterior of the Biograph studio-The show is still funny after all these years due to the writing of Nat Hiken and you can hear the old radio influence in the dialogue and story plots( A good book to read about Hiken: " King of the Half Hour" sold at Barnes & Noble). Thanks for the memories
I was much too young to enjoy this when it was on (I was 3 when it went
off the air) but was blessed to see it on Nick at Night. I wish they
would bring it back again or if it's on DVD, I must have it! This show
about two 'hard working' New York City cops was witty and intelligent.
Many of my generation think of the sitcoms of the 1950s and early 1960s
and picture simple, basic and not terribly funny humor. Picture "Small
Wonder" in black and white. This show had heart and some very clever
writing. The simplest of everyday situations that a cop can face were
turned into comedy gold. It was the "Barney Miller" of it's day. If any
of you dear readers ever get a chance to see any of these episodes,
check out the one where Toody and Muldoon have a chance to go out
fishing on a boat. The lengths they go to to arrange their schedule so
as to be free to go out, and the ONE thing that fouls it up are complex
The cast was wonderful as well, and of course they would be, otherwise this terrific writing would have been wasted. It's not.
I agree with Gilda, Car 54 is a classic that has not been given the same
credit as "I Love Lucy" or "The Honeymooners", also some of my
The writing on Car 54 was superb. One of my favorite episodes is about the evil landlord "Pocrass." I love it!
Taking a cue from his previously screened and highly successful SGT.
BILKO series(aka YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH 1955-59), creator Nat Hiken went
to the extensive pool of existing talent in the comedian /comic/funny
man line. It was here that he found names like Jimmy Little, Joe E.
Ross and even BILKO Star Phil Silvers had his comedic roots on stage in
either Vaudeville or Burlesque.
In the casting of the players, Mr.Hiken and company made use of the available and eager New York stage actors. What could be more natural? After all, CAR 54 would be a Sitcom that was set in New York City about the Policemen of New York. Ergo, it would behoove any creative persons involved to add a certain otherwise unattainable degree of realism by using native born New Yorkers! (Duh!) The use of what must be described as "Obvious Humor" was a regular element of the series. Often the gags could be spotted coming from a ways out, yet the execution of the dialog by the players and the practice of milking a running gag for all its worth before finishing with it.
Hence we had a situation in one episode where Officer Francis Muldoon(Fred Gwynne) laments childhood experience wherein the kids at school referred to him as "Horse Face." Officer Gunther Toody(Joe E. Ross), his partner consoles him by telling him: "Don't worry Francis, kids just repeat what other people say!" And if this wasn't enough, Toody later adds: "After all, Francis, everybody liked Black Beauty!" They would sometimes take it beyond twice, but no matter it would be "resolved" in one way or another. And the charm of it was all was done straight-faced and serious.
The use of Cops as a Comic Foil has been around been with us ever since there has been Authority to deal with. When Mr. Mack Sennett gave us his Keystone Kops(and their immediate ancestor, Sennett's BANGVILLE POLICE)the use of the Cop as an outlet for humorous purposes was already a well established tradition on stage;be it in Vaudeville, English Music Hall, Burlesque, Stage Drama or Broadway Musical.Looking back further, we see in newspaper cartoons (not Comic Strips)be they straight humor or the Editorial type, this in heavy evidence.
There is one other area that CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? makes points that may not be apparent to a viewer. Unless you have been a Cop or had close family "on the job" it might completely miss you. (And this is no fault on anyone's.) Most of our TV Cops were characterized as little more than some sort of law enforcing robots. Oh, there were some exceptions, but for the most part series like Jack Webb's ADAM 12, portrayed what could almost pass for training film conversations. The team of Reed & Malloy seemed more interested in discussing street cop secrets and department procedure than sports, movies, where to get your car fixed or broads, even.
Mr. Hiken's crew not only humanized Cops, but took them a step further in showing some human foibles. And that,in the bigger picture of the Cinema & TV, may well be the greatest contribution that Nat Hiken and CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? provided.
This Cop Sitcom/Farce is one of the best representative series of its period(The early to mid 1960's). If you are not familiar with it, it's high time you met. If not on an outlet like NICK AT NIGHT, then try VHS or DVD's. Even a purchase would be well worthwhile.
Car 54 was the funniest show ever to grace the airwaves. The acting was dead-on perfection and the writing far superior to anything we have on-air today. The funniest episode involved a parrot that Captain Block had for years but was unable to teach it to talk. After one day with our heroes, the parrot ends up saying "I hate Captain Block", repeatedly. This is the funniest show I have ever seen! My husband first showed it to me shortly after I came out of the hospital for surgery. I laughed so hard that I thought my stitches would pop and I had to beg him to shut it off until later! If you have never seen this show you are in for a tremendous treat!! I love this show; when will it come on DVD? I can't wait to show all the episodes to our children.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first became acquainted with "Car 54 Where Are You" almost 20 years
ago. I was 18, fresh out of high school, and loved to get my "nightly
dose" of Nick at Nite. I'll admit, I did not connect with it right
away, however, one night, everything changed. In the beginning, I would
glance at the show in passing, but one night, I sat down and watched an
episode in its entirety, and immediately became hooked! I fell in love
with the guys at the 53rd precinct in the Bronx. Not only was the
casting superb, but so was the writing. The show would win an Emmy for
outstanding direction in 1962, an honor rightfully deserved.
I could not imagine anyone else other than Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne being Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon. The two were completely different, both on screen and in real life. Toody was short, stocky, nosy, and not very bright. He lived with his loud, domineering wife, Lucille. Muldoon was very tall, quiet, and more intelligent. He was a shy bachelor, who still lived with his Mother, and had two younger sisters. Joe E. Ross dropped out of high school, and became a singing waiter, before becoming a stand-up comic, while Fred Gwynne graduated from Harvard. However, the chemistry between the two was undeniable and amazing. The two policemen each had a heart of gold, and the zany adventures they would get caught up in were outrageous! Other cast members included Beatrice Pons, Al Lewis, Charlotte Rae, Nipsey Russell, Ossie Davis, Paul Reed, and Hank Garrett. This was one of the first shows to regularly feature actors of other ethnicities, and they were not there to be the "butt" of everyone else's jokes. They were simply there because it was an accurate representation of the real world, a rather significant step for a television show in the early 1960s.
If you ever get a chance to watch an episode or two, please do so! You will be blessed to discover a REAl gem, and you will be a fan for life;-)
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